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Sports Law and Athlete Rights

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   10-Apr-2024 | Akai Negi

The Constitution of India, under the Seventh Schedule, designates sports as a subject under the State List, granting states the authority to enact laws concerning sports. Efforts were made by the central government in 2017 to shift sports to the concurrent list, allowing both the union and state legislatures to formulate laws regarding sports.

However, this proposed reform has yet to materialise. Various states like Punjab, Kerala, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh have formulated distinct policies and regulations tailored to their respective regions to govern and boost sports activities.

Global Laws and Entities Dealing with Sports

  • Globally, sports governance is primarily managed by self-regulating non-governmental entities. These include international NGOs like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), International Sports Federations, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They hold significant authority in organising and overseeing ye the same dp hai 6international sporting events.

The International Convention against Doping in Sport was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the year 2005. This landmark agreement established a legal framework for governments to address the issue of doping in sports. It provides guidelines, policies, and rules for combating doping, ensuring the effective implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code.

Laws and Entities Dealing with Sports in India

In India, unlike many other countries, there is no dedicated law specifically addressing sports. Instead, various existing laws govern different aspects of international, professional, and amateur sports, including contract law, employment laws, tax regulations, and competition law.

Sports law in India is primarily shaped by government policies and court rulings. Since sports is listed as a state subject in the Constitution of India, implementing reforms at the national level becomes challenging, as it limits the authority of the central government to legislate on sports matters.

India's sports sector grapples with multifaceted challenges across its governance and infrastructure. The Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports lacks comprehensive policies for infrastructure development and faces coordination hurdles between departments. Sports Federations struggle with autonomy-related inconsistencies and limited oversight mechanisms. The Sports Authority of India contends with underutilization of funds and inadequate athlete support programs. Legal assistance accessibility remains a concern for the Sports Law and Welfare Association. Additionally, disparities in National and State Sports Policies hinder coordinated development efforts. Enforcement challenges plague the Sports Broadcasting Signals Act, 2007, limiting access to important sporting events. Addressing these issues is crucial for fostering a thriving sports ecosystem in India.

Judicial Approach - Legal Transformations in Sports

  • A legal revolution unfolded in sports following the Ajay Jadeja v Union of India ruling by the Delhi High Court in 2001. This case highlighted the necessity for structured procedures and coordinated investigations to tackle integrity issues within sports, asserting the court's jurisdiction over certain public functions of sports bodies.
  • IPL match-fixing scandal in 2013:
    • Existing legal statutes like the Indian Penal Code were employed, prompting the proposal of the Prevention of Sporting Fraud Bill in 2013. However, this bill, aimed at regulating federations and addressing sports-related crimes, languished without enactment.
    • The Mukul Mudgal Panel advocated for a dedicated law to combat sporting fraud in 2014. Similarly, Justice R. M. Lodha Committee in 2015 proposed a players' association to safeguard player interests. Despite these initiatives, comprehensive legal reforms in sports remain elusive.
    • Legal cases such as the Zee Telefilms and Others v. Union of India & Others 2005 provided judicial clarifications on the legal status and accountability measures of sports organisations like the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)

Sports Legislation: Addressing Challenges in India

The need for proper sports legislation is critical to address the challenges plaguing the sports industry in India. Despite government support and public motivation, the sector continues to face issues such as bidding scandals, corruption, match-fixing, and even sexual harassment of female players.

While competition in sports is fierce, resorting to illegal practices tarnishes the integrity of the game. India's sports associations were built on principles of ethics and talent, emphasising fair play over shortcuts to victory. However, labour disputes, drug usage, and lack of accountability among sports governing bodies persist.

1. Labour Disputes: Players often struggle to negotiate fair working conditions, wages, and training due to ineffective representation by their agents.

2. Drug Usage: Despite efforts to prevent performance-enhancing drug use, some players still resort to illegal substances, endangering their health and integrity of the sport.

3. Accountability: There is a need to hold government bodies and sports agencies accountable for their actions, ensuring transparency and fair play.

4. Ill-treatment of Players: Some players face exploitation and discrimination, with inadequate wages, unfair contract terminations, and limited access to advanced training facilities.

5. Promotion of Lesser-Known Sports: All sports deserve equal promotion and support to improve training facilities and encourage participation, irrespective of their popularity in the media.

Doping Challenges: NADA's Role

  • The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) was established in 2005 by the Government of India to enforce anti-doping regulations in accordance with international agreements.
  • NADA is responsible for organising, promoting, and implementing India's anti-doping program in sports, including conducting tests on athletes to ensure compliance with banned substance regulations.
    • However, the adoption of international anti-doping standards by NADA has overlooked the local context in India, resulting in a lack of awareness among athletes about banned substances and doping.
  • Many athletes unknowingly consume banned substances found in common medications like painkillers and cough syrups, leading to inadvertent doping violations.
  • Additionally, limited access to specialised testing facilities makes it difficult and costly for athletes to verify the safety of supplements before use.
  • Cases like National Anti-Doping Agency v. Jyotsana Pansare 2017 highlights the challenges athletes face due to inadvertent exposure to banned substances through cosmetic products.
  • NADA's educational initiatives often fail to reach rural athletes, contributing to a lack of understanding of their rights, including the right to appeal decisions made by disciplinary boards.
  • In response to doping scandals involving Indian athletes, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports established a council in 2011 to address issues within NADA.

However, despite recommendations for improvement, NADA's disciplinary tribunals continue to operate in a manner that does not guarantee fair trials, leading to delays and injustices in the process. There is an urgent need to reform NADA's procedures to ensure fairness, transparency, and effectiveness in combating doping in Indian sports.

Sexual Harassment Concerns

  • Many female athletes face sexual harassment, Non-accidental violence, often inflicted by coaches, can cause psychological and sexual harm, impacting athletes' mental health, self-esteem, sponsorship opportunities, and overall well-being with some tragic cases resulting in suicide due to exploitation by coaches.
  • Sexual harassment in sports affects 2-8% of minor-age female athletes, primarily perpetrated by coaches and instructors, leading to legal actions against sports associations and federations.
  • It violates gender equality and fundamental rights, addressed initially by the Vishaka guidelines and later by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013.
  • Despite legal frameworks, implementation challenges persist, requiring sports federations to adopt similar provisions and establish Internal Complaints Committees.

Deciphering Dilemmas with Solutions

Reform Regulations:

  • Currently, only Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh have active sports laws, underscoring the pressing need for nationwide legislation.
  • Reforming NADA regulations is crucial, with a focus on educating athletes about doping risks and their rights. Providing information in athletes' native languages is vital for clarity and compliance.

Proposed Legislation:

  • Parliament's consideration of placing sports on the concurrent list for comprehensive legislation is vital for sports development.
    • Introduce strict laws with penalties and jail terms for illegal activities such as corruption, match-fixing, and drug use.
  • Ensure equal treatment and opportunities for all players, regardless of their performance or popularity.
    • Provide grants and support to promote all sports equally, rather than favouring certain popular games like cricket over others.

Dispute Resolution Mechanism:

  • Disputes in sports often require specialised mechanisms for resolution. National sports federations and international governing bodies play key roles in adjudicating disputes and upholding the integrity of the sport.
  • The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) serves as the apex court for resolving sporting disputes, ensuring fair and impartial outcomes.

Data Governance Protocols:

  • Develop clear guidelines for the responsible use of technology and data in sports, protecting athlete privacy and ensuring transparency in data management practices.

Legal Representation Services:

  • Provide athletes with access to specialised sports lawyers for legal representation and advocacy, especially in contractual disputes and rights violations. Sports lawyers play a crucial role in drafting contracts that address data ownership, privacy, and usage rights.


Sports in India has evolved beyond mere entertainment to become a matter of national pride, with extensive media coverage and economic activity. The emergence of professional leagues and commercial interests has led to a corporate structure in the sports industry, highlighting the need for clear legislation to protect all parties involved.

Given the short career span of athletes, timely dispute resolution mechanisms are crucial. However, ongoing reforms lack momentum, with many bills remaining stagnant without implementation. National Sports Federations require reforms for better transparency and accountability. However, elections within these federations are often controlled by non-sports individuals, leading to a repetitive cycle of power. This allows political office bearers to hold positions for extended periods, sometimes using proxies to maintain control. Effective measures are needed to break this cycle and ensure that qualified individuals with genuine sporting backgrounds lead these organisations.